Sunday, April 18, 2021

A stroll around seven thousand islands (Following folktales around the world 198. - Philippines)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Tales from the 7,000 Isles
Popular Philippine Folktales
A.R. Guillermo & Nimfa M. Rodeheaver
Read Me Books, 1996.

A lovely volume with many colorful illustrations (some better than others), containing 20 folktales on a mere 87 pages. It was interesting, but I did not fall in love with it. The authors claim some stories were "rewritten" to make them more dramatic, but don't specify what parts they changed. There was a short introduction about the flora and fauna of the islands; they also mentioned they selected from the larger ethnic groups of the Philippines, but did not specify them with the stories. Names came with notes and explanations (animal's names were often the word used for that animal). There was not much extra information included, but it was an entertaining read.


Most of the memorable stories were placed among the myths in the beginning of the book. My favorite was the completely conflict-less story about how different plants went to the Great Spirit to be told where they will live. It was interesting to observe who became ambassadors to various plant groups: hardwood was represented by mahogany, grasses by bamboo, fruit trees by mango, food plants by rice, and tall trees by coconut, who was deemed the most important of all. Another interesting myth explained why sea is salt - it was about a hero who wanted to build a salt castle for his love, and while building a salt-bridge to another island the bridge collapsed under him. 
The book also had a short version of one of the great epics of the Philippines, Ibong Adarna the magic bird. I read the original in translation, so this summarized version was not nearly as exciting, but I was still happy to see it here. And the rainbow colored magic bird somehow got translated as a nightingale...


There were many. Most oft he stories belonged to familiar types, such as animals running a race (here buffalo and tortoise), fairy bride with stolen wings (or rather, star bride), and even an Aladdin story that was so close to the 1001 Nights I wondered how it ended up on the Philippines. There was also a version of the story where sea animals want a monkey's liver, but he manages to convince them he's left his organs on dry land. I knew this one from Japan.

Where to next?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Tarot Tales: O is for the Old Man (Hermit)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Hermit

Meanings: The Hermit is about being alone, but not really about loneliness. Rather, it's a card of introspection, soul-searching, self-reflection, inner guidance, and focusing on yourself. Obviously it can also symbolize taking a break from worldly things and concerns. 

Selection process: Hermits do appear often in world folklore and legends, usually as religious role models or spiritual guides. However, I wanted to find a story that dealt with self-reflection and seeking a truth - and also wanted it to be a good story.

The story: King Cormac's journey

Origin: Ireland

Cormac Mac Airt, High King of Ireland, is visited by a mysterious stranger who carries a golden branch with nine golden apples. Such beautiful music emanates from the ringing apples that even wounded warriors and women in labor fall into a peaceful sleep from it. King Cormac asks for the branch as a token of friendship. The guest agrees to give it up - in exchange for the king fulfilling three of his wishes. Cormac, not even considering the consequences, agrees.
After that, the stranger returns three time in three years with his three requests. First, he takes away Cormac's daughter, then his son, then his wife. Finally, Cormac is left alone, as as he waits the return of his family every day on the ramparts of Tara, he re-evaluates the worth of the magic branch that puts everyone easily to sleep. He realizes that making sorrow disappear with music is not helping anyone.
So, King Cormac sets out to find his family. He gets lost in the mists and wanders alone for a long time until he arrives to a magic land, where he sees many strange things. Eventually, he finds a castle, and he is greeted as a guest. His hosts put a pig over the fire to roast, but they announce that it will only be done when four true stories are told over it. Everyone takes turns telling stories, and Cormac realizes his host is none other than Manannan Mac Lir, the King of the Otherworld and god of the sea. Cormac finally tells his own story, admitting he had made a bad choice when he traded his family for the golden branch. Lesson learned, Manannan gives him his family back, and sends him home, to rule more wisely and honestly over Ireland.

Sources & notes: Read the story here or here, and find more info here.

Runner-ups: I read an entire book of tales about Taoist immortals which was quite fascinating. Lots of hermits in here.

What is your favorite place to be alone? Where do you go or what do you do when you need to think things over?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Tarot Tales: N is for Nine of...

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This is once again an unconventional Minor Arcana post. I am picking four tales for the four Nine cards in the tarot deck. I have struggled with the Nines, because they are not easy for me to grasp in concrete terms, but I am trying my best.

Nine of Wands

Nine of Wands is exhausted but not broken. It is a card about still standing after going through a lot. It is about resilience, overcoming obstacles, standing your ground and not giving up. It is also about boundaries - the boundaries that protect you, that you have fought hard for. They keep others from bringing you down, even when it feels like everything is testing your resilience.

In this tale, a girl's Destiny appears to her in the shape of an eagle, and asks her if she wants to be fortunate when she is young, or when she is old. She chooses fortune for her old age - which means misfortune plagues her while she is young. The eagle follows her everywhere, and messes up whatever she tries to achieve. She goes through a lot, gets kicked out of all her jobs, until finally she manages to find a place as a servant in a king's palace. In her most desperate moment, her misfortune finally breaks, and she ends up marrying a prince.
This tale type has many other variants. You can read one here, or here, or here. It's tale type ATU 938A.

Nine of Swords

This is not a nice card. It is about anxiety, fears, worries, and all those other dark things that literally keep you up at night. It is despair, lack of self-confidence, and haunting thoughts. 

A princess dies of a broken heart, and demands that someone should guard her crypt every night. However, each guard is found dead in the morning. Turns out the princess transformed into a monster who crawls out of her coffin at night to eat people. One brave man volunteers to spend three nights in the cathedral where she is buried. On the first two, he hides in various places, terrified she'd find him; on the third, he jumps into her coffin and locks himself in. She screams and scratches the lid all night, but he holds out. By morning, the curse is broken.
Yes, you know this one from The Witcher. I always thought this folktale is about anxiety. Folktale type ATU 307.

Nine of Cups

This one is also known as the wish card. It is about wishes coming true. It is about satisfaction, blessings, happiness, gratitude, living your best life, having it all. I wanted to find a story that has a water element (Cups), a wish, and a content happy ending.

A king is searching for someone who would bring water from a magic lake to cure his sick son. Two young men set out but they fail. Eventually, their little sister sets out on a journey too, and with the help of her pet llama and some grateful birds, she manages to find a lake. The birds make her a magic fan from their feathers, a fan that fulfills her every which. At the lake, she uses it to defeat a giant crab, an alligator, and a flying serpent. She takes the water to the king in a golden jar. In return, the king grats her three wishes. She receives a large farm for her family, and lives happily ever after. The ever-full golden jar keeps the royals healthy and safe.
(You can also read the story here or here, or find a lovely Spanish telling here.

Nine of Pentacles

If Cups is about wishes, this one is about wealth. It is about having financial security, the ability to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. It is a card for luxury and comfort. It also usually depicts a woman surrounded by nature, enjoying her life. It's the treat yourself card.

A poor widow supports herself and her three sons from her weaving. One day she sees a beautiful painting of a palace with gardens, and she decides to weave it into a brocade, escaping into the beautiful imaginary world while she works. When the brocade is finally finished, the winds picks it up and carries it away, and the widow, after so much work, falls ill from disappointment. Her sons set out to find the brocade, but only the youngest succeeds; he finds it in a palace of fairies, where they are busy copying it. He takes the brocade home - and when he unfolds it, it comes to life, providing a gorgeous garden and a palace for the widow (and a fairy wife for her son). They live happily ever after.

If you could have a wish, what would you wish for? If you had the resources, what would you treat yourself to? What keeps you going when times are hard?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Tarot Tales: M is for The Magician

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Magician

Meanings: This card speaks for itself. It is about power, knowledge, energy, and action. This person has all the tools and resources to turn ideas into reality. He is a master of what he's doing. It is a card full of confidence. He's got this.

Selection process: World folklore is teeming with magicians of all kinds - this was another one of those too many to choose from situations. Once again it would have been easy to pick Merlin. I wanted to pick someone equally legendary and powerful, but from outside of Europe.

The story: Abe no Seimei

Origin: Japan

Abe no Seimei in a game 
called Onmyoji
Abe no Seimei is a very famous onmyoji (diviner and magician) in Japanese lore, who was originally a real historical figure from the 10th century. There are many legends about him, and he's even transferred into popular media. 
According to the stories, Abe no Seimei was only half human: his mother was a kitsune, a fox spirit, who fell in love with a mortal man. Their son had supernatural powers from an early age, he could see hidden things (like his mother's true nature), and command spirits. When he grew up, he became a powerful diviner and magician. He even understood the language of animals.
In one story, Abe no Seimei saves the emperor from a fox maiden named Tamamo no Mae, who lives in his court in the disguise of a concubine, and makes the emperor sick. In another legend, he helps the samurai Watanabe no Tsuna in defeating a terrible demon
One of the most famous legends, however, deal with the divination duel between Abe no Seimei and his rival Ashiya Douman. Over the course of this challenge, Abe no Seimei even summons a dragon, and with its help creates a flood that almost drowns his rival. Later, they both have to guess the contents of a box that was buried. Douman guesses correctly (fifteen oranges), but Abe no Seimei guesses fifteen rats... and then uses his powers to turn the oranges into rats. 

Sources & notes: See the links above. You can also read about Abe no Seimei in this fascinating book.

Runner-ups: I was also seriously considering Vergilius (who in medieval legends transformed from Roman poet into a powerful wizard), Taliesin the Welsh bard, Don Juan de Salamanca the Spanish wizard, a host of Icelandic wizard legends, the red princess' story from Nizami, Kampó the Hungarian wizard, and even Prince Ariel from Madame D'Aulnoy's fairy tales.

Who is your favorite wizard or magician from folklore, from history, or from modern popular culture?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Tarot Tales: L is for The Lovers

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Lovers

Meanings: This card symbolizes the obvious: love, attraction, passion, romance, relationships, and following your heart. But it also broader than that, because it is connected to all kinds of meaningful relationships, harmony and communication, respect, and two forces coming together in a powerful union. In addition, this card is often used to symbolize choices and decisions, acting in accordance with your own values and beliefs, having integrity, and doing the right thing.

Selection process: The RWS Lovers card has very biblical imagery, with Adam and Eve and the angel and the serpent on the tree. I was looking for something less... biblical, and also something that makes a better love story. To make it extra difficult, I also wanted a tale that is about making choices. I finally decided on one of my favorite love stories in world folklore.

The story: The Pale Mountains (a.k.a. Prince of the Dolomites)

Origin: Italian, Tyrolean, Ladin

Summary: A prince falls in love with the moon, and pines away all his life wishing to reach it. One day he gets lost in the mountains, and in a dream he sees a radiant, beautiful girl who claims to be the daughter of the Moon King. The prince hands her a red flower, but when he wakes up, the girl is nowhere to be seen. 
Seeking the Moon Princess, the prince climbs the mountain with a bouquet of flowers, and encounters two old men who turn out to be citizens of the moon, on their way home. The prince begs them to take him along. They all fly up to she moon on a cloud, where the prince can finally meet the princess. They fall in love, get married, and live happily... for a while. The light of the moon is so radiant up close, however, that the mortal prince begins to go blind. He has to return to earth, and he takes his wife along. 
Once again, they are happy for a while; the princess plants moon flowers (edelweiss) all around, and she loves the people and colors of earth. However, she soon grows depressed and homesick, because the mountains seem dark and menacing to her. Eventually she has to go back home to heal; her husband follows her, but once again he begins to grow blind. The royal couple gives up hope of being together, and the prince, heartbroken, returns to earth alone.
Plot twist! The prince meets a band of Dwarves in the mountains, who are refugees from a war far East. Their king promises that if they can settle in the kingdom, they will help him. The prince convinces his father to give the high mountains to the Dwarves (since humans don't really go there anyway). In return, the Dwarves spin moonlight, and cover the rocks with it, turning the range of the Dolomites from dark grey to pale pastel colors - as they are to this very day. The Moon Princess can now happily return to earth, and live with her husband among the radiant mountains. 

Sources & notes: Read the story in this book, or here, or here.

Runner-ups: I was also considering some of my favorite feminist love stories, such as the Wooing of Pumei or Herburt and Hild. But since I already blogged about those, I wanted something new.

Have you ever been to the Dolomites? Would you like to visit now that you know the story? :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tarot Tales: K is for Kings and Knights

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This post is the first one about the Minor Arcana. So, instead of one card, I'll be focusing on eight: four Kings, and four Knights. Comments will be shorter, but since Kings and Knights are very common in folklore, the selection process was also a lot easier. 
(If you have suggestions for Kings and Knights from more non-European cultures, let me know!)

CUPS (emotions, water)

King of Cups: Zal (Persia)

The King of Cups is emotionally mature, compassionate, caring, and kind. He is diplomatic, intuitive, warm-hearted, and an excellent mentor. For these reasons I chose my favorite hero from the Persian Book of Kings, Zal. Born with white hair, Zal was put out into the mountains by his father to die, but the mythical Simurgh bird raised him. As an adult, he returned to his kingdom and became a wise, level-headed and diplomatic ruler - and a kind and loving father to one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. He also has a gorgeous love story.

Knight of Cups: Oisín (Ireland & Scotland)

This is my favorite guy in the deck. Romantic, creative, charming, and on top of that just as caring, kind, and compassionate as the King. He is all about beauty and love, all heart and imagination. He is the downright knight in shining armor. I chose another old favorite of mine: Oisín (or Ossian), the famous bard of Irish and Scottish legends. Oisín is the son of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhail, part human, part fae. He is the odd one out of the rowdy warriors of the Fianna, more a musician and a diplomat than a fighter (although he can definitely hold his own in an adventure). He is most famous from the love story where he runs away with the Queen of the Land of Youth.

WANDS (action, fire)

King of Wands: Setuli, King of the Birds (Eswatini)

This king is THE King. He is a true leader, a great role model. He takes on challenges, defeats obstacles, makes dreams into reality. He is a visionary, all energy, action and innovation. If I was going to put Arthur in the deck, this would be him - but I wanted to pick someone less obvious. So, let me introduce you to Setuli, King of Birds, from the tales of Eswatini. He is born deaf and mute, but when his magician brother takes him into the wilderness, he meets a wise old woman and she helps him gain magic powers through his own bravery and determination. Setuli then uses his new powers to turn birds into people, and sets out on a journey. He ends up breaking a curse on another kingdom, and those people join him too; he defeats monsters and makes daring plans, and in the end he lives happily ever after as the ruler of a prosperous land. 

Knight of Wands: Astolfo (Italy)

This Knight is daring, enthusiastic, and passionate. He has a lot of energy to go around: he gets into spontaneous adventures, sweeps damsels off their feet, helps out friends, goes on quests, makes magic happen. He has as much charm as Cups, but in a less dreamy and more adventurous way. For these reasons I chose Astolfo, one of the heroes of the Italian epic Orlando Furioso. He is an English prince, one of Charlemagne's paladins, most famous for riding the first hippogriff recorded in legends! After rescuing the magic steed from a wizard, he flies it to the Moon to find the lost wits of his friend Orlando. It is quite an adventure story!

SWORDS (intellect, air)

King of Swords: Solomon (Jewish, Christian & Muslim traditions)

This King is all about wisdom, knowledge, and intellect. He makes good, impartial judgment, he is respected and trusted by everyone, and he always finds the truth. He follows logic instead of emotions, and he is good at what he does. He is also a strong authority figure. I thought the legendary King Solomon would be a good fit for this card. Recently I was doing some research on Solomon's judgment (the baby-cutting-in-half thing), and it is a lot deeper than most people realize.

Knight of Swords: Mercury Ali (1001 Nights)

Knight of Swords is a bundle of energy and intellect. He is unstoppable, always up for a challenge, good with words, and usually the smartest person in the room (sometimes annoyingly so). He is all about action and winning (I love it that Telluric Tarot symbolizes him with the coffee plant). Now, I could have picked a lot of heroes for this one, but I wanted to highlight the intellect part. So instead of a knight I chose a trickster: the infamous Mercury Ali from the 1001 Nights. He is a legendary rogue from Cairo, who travels to Bagdad and gets into an endless prank war with a clever lady named Zaynab. He goes through many adventures, sometimes fighting with wits, and sometimes with a magic spear, until he can marry his lady love.
(CW: this story has a few seriously problematic parts, but in my opinion none of them are essential to the plot, and can be easily skipped.)

PENTACLES (material things, earth)

King of Pentacles: Laurin (Germany)

This King symbolizes wealth, abundance, and material security. He is grounded, respected, traditional, and successful in making his domain flourish. He is also kind of a fatherly figure and a family man. I immediately thought King Laurin would be a good fit. In German legends he is the Dwarf king of the mountains of Tyrol. He reigns over a wealthy underground kingdom full of treasures, and has a beautiful rose garden in the mountains. He features into a long and amazing legend about the struggle between humans and Dwarves.

Knight of Pentacles: Kay the Senechal (Britain)

He is not a very knightly Knight. This guy is about hard work, planning, and practical things. He is patient, responsible, reliable, persistent, and honorable. He is also, to me, one of my favorite knights from Arthurian legends: Sir Kay the Senechal. Kay is generally known for his sharp tongue and grumpy demeanor (and for being King Arthur's mean foster brother), but behind the scenes, he is the one that keeps the lights on in Camelot. In the old Welsh legends he literally keeps everyone warm by the heat radiating from his body. He might not be a good fighter, or a romantic hero, but he keeps all of them housed, clothed, and fed. You're welcome. 

Who are your favorite heroes, kings, and knights in shining armor?
(And don't worry, we'll get to the queens too!)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Tarot Tales: J is for Judgement

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: Judgement

Meanings: Judgement has to do with stepping into a new phase, another level of consciousness; of making a life-changing decision and finding your true self and calling. It also deals with releasing old things, past wounds, regret and guilt. It is about debts (both paying and letting go), self-reflection, and awakening to personal truths. It is a card of things coming to light, even though (or maybe because) in the past mistakes have been made.

Selection process: Okay so I struggle with this card a lot, and I think I'm not alone. I also struggled with trying to find a story that fits such an abstract concept (as long as I did not want to settle for the obvious "Last Judgment"). In the end, it was the "past mistakes" and the "coming to light" part that led me to this tale, which is one of my all-time favorites. 

The story: Aicha's tasks on earth

Origin: Algeria

A merchant has a brave, clever, and talented daughter, Aicha. A prince proposes to marry her, but with a clever ruse she reveals that he is a coward and a liar, and rejects the marriage. Early on in the story she defeats a man-eating ghoul that tries to kill her family, but she doesn't check to see if she'd burnt the body thoroughly enough. A leftover splinter of the ghoul's bone wounds her, and curses her: she has to keep traveling the world without rest. Aicha turns the curse to her advantage, and sets out to kill monsters and slay demons all over the place. She unveils mysteries, helps people, and chases enemies away. After many adventures (she even runs into Sindbad once), she finally gets rid of the literal demon on her shoulder, and becomes a great queen. 
(I also wrote about her in my StorySpotting series)

Sources & notes: Read here. I also included the first half in my book about superpowers in folktales.

Runner-ups: Kadyr's fortune, a Kazakh tale about a man in search of his luck, who makes a lot of foolish mistakes along the way, but eventually learns to recognize his good fortune. I was also thinking of King Lindworm, where a dragon-prince is transformed into true royalty through trial and error.

What would you do if you had to constantly travel all your life?